Renewable Energy: An Overview

Renewable electricity can be generated from wind power, wave, tidal, solar photovoltaics (PV), hydro generation, geothermal and biomass (energy from forestry or crops). These forms of generation offer an enormous potential resource, particularly in the UK where our coastline provides extensive opportunities to use wind, wave and tidal power.

They all produce no carbon at all or, in the case of biomass, produce only the carbon they have already absorbed from the atmosphere when growing. Some forms of waste are also classed as renewable under the Renewables Obligation. Solar energy can heat water directly, either for hot water or for space heating in buildings. And heat from the ground, river water, sewage and even the air can be put through a heat exchanger for both water and space heating.

To understand exactly where the UK is in terms of renewable energy we need to consider that today almost 3% of all electricity supplied comes from renewable sources. New legislation however, the Renewables Obligation, has set targets on the generation of electricity from renewables to be 10% by 2010.

The government has a vision, recently published in the white paper "Our Energy Future" which outlines their vision on how the UK Energy system is likely to be by 2020.

Thye envisage that in regard specifically to renewable energy that:

•  Much of our energy will be imported, either from or through a single European Market , embracing as many as 25 countries.

•  The backbone of the electricity system will still be a market-based grid, balancing the supply of large power stations. But that some of those large power stations will be offshore marine plants, including wave, tidal and windfarms. Generally smaller onshore windfarms will also be generating.

•  There will be much more local generation, in part from small local/community power plant, fuelled by locally grown biomass, from locally generated waste, from local wind sources, or possibly local wave and tidal generators.

•  There will be much more micro-generation such as CHP plant, fuel cells in buildings and photo-voltaics.

We produce less electricity from renewables than a number of our European partners.

In 2000, renewables (excluding large hydro plant and mixed waste incineration) supplied only 1.3% of our electricity, compared with 16.7% in Denmark , 4% in the Netherlands , 3.2% in Germany and 3.4% in Spain . To hit the 10% target we will need to install approximately 10,000MW of renewables capacity by 2010, an annual build rate of over 1250MW. Only 1200MW of renewables capacity has been installed in total so far (excluding large hydro).

The measures we have already put in place will make a major difference to the rate at which capacity is installed. But they were only introduced last year and it will take a few years before these measures impact fully.

If we are committed to a future of renewable energy it is easy to see that we must act now to make a difference!